Still thinking about self-esteem

Published by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2008 at 04:23 PM

Many schools have gotten rid of the honor roll because it damages the self-eseem of children who don’t get on it.

My sister’s high school class had five valedictorians, because parents pitched a fit when the top student won by a tenth of a point and they felt their children had been penalized for taking extracurricular classes like band and chorus. This school had 44 valedictorians.

ScienceDaily: Parenting Styles Can Hurt Children’s Self-Esteem

Alfie Kohn: “Let me get this straight. Kids who get higher scores on standardized tests are unhappy and self-doubting, so that means we should question the importance of happiness and self-confidence, rather than the importance of these tests?” Washington Post: Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores

Wikipedia page on Self-Esteem: “From the late 1970s to the early 1990s many Americans assumed as a matter of course that students' self-esteem acted as a critical factor in the grades that they earn in school, in their relationships with their peers, and in their later success in life. Given this assumption, some American groups created programs which aimed to increase the self-esteem of students. … Peer-reviewed research undertaken since then has not validated previous assumptions. Recent research indicates that inflating students’ self-esteem in and of itself has no positive effect on grades. One study has shown that inflating self-esteem by itself can actually decrease grades.”

“There is convincing evidence that people with high self-esteem are happier, as well as more likely to undertake difficult tasks and persevere in the face of failure. Other studies have failed to confirm the virtues of high self-esteem. One way to understand the divergent views is to distinguish various kinds of self-esteem. Researchers are beginning to examine differences between explicit and implicit self-esteem. The explicit form is judged by what we say about ourselves, while implicit self-esteem is measured by automatic responses, such as how we associate words that have favorable or unfavorable connotations with ourselves.” Harvard Health: Implicit vs. Explicit Self-Esteem

Authentic self-esteem

Published by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2008 at 02:18 PM

How do you deal with it when things don’t go your way? If you make a mistake, or if someone just doesn’t appreciate your work or your idea, how do you deal?

Do you waver in your feelings of self-worth? self-confidence? Do you switch to the winning side? Do you pull back in discomfort, embarrassment, fear?

How do we build authentic self-esteem?

People who are authentically self-confident can accept criticism, weigh it, and decide what to keep and what to discard.

People who are authentically self-confident can accept their own mistakes as an unavoidable part of achievement.

People who are authentically self-confident can weigh risks and make good decisions, then deal with the consequences.

People who are authentically self-confident can accept rejection and not give up.

How do we help our children to become authentically self-confident?

Who decides what you can and cannot do?

Published by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2008 at 03:47 PM

A visitor stands in our classroom, surrounded on all sides by children at work. A child in a sparkly purple cape is painting at an easel. Three children sit with their heads together over a book. A child is making a book next to another child making a set of cards. Two children sing and dance on a stage, while another pretends to film them. Two children with clipboards are sketching a telescope near where a small group of children are working on a very large construction.

They are in the midst of a months-long project on space. They are three and four years old.

The visitor stands with her hands on her hips, slowly shaking her head. “This topic,” she says, “is too complex for preschool children.”


A visiting educator shakes her head as well. “Children should do projects on things that are in their own backyard! Children can’t visit outer space!”


Adults, especially educators, do like to decide what children can and cannot do, what they should and should not learn.

So I tell them this story about one of our students and her father.

A three-year-old girl jumps up and down with excitement in her kitchen at home, greeting her tired father who has just arrived home from work.

“Daddy! Daddy! Let’s look at the stars!”

He is tired, and he just stepped through the door. He sighs. But of course he loves his daughter, and he has been putting her off for a little while. “All right, sweetheart. Give Daddy a minute.”

She careens around the room in excitement, bubbling over with talk and gestures.

A little while later, he zips her into her jacket and lifts her up. Gives her a hug. They open the door and step out into their backyard.

“Daddy!,” she cries, pointing excitedly. “Orion!”

He raises his eyes, then looks back at his tiny daughter. His heart swells. “Where, honey?”

“There! Those three stars are Orion’s belt! And look, there’s the Big Dipper!”

Overwhelmed, he lets her slide to the ground. He crouches beside her. He lets her show him the stars.

Who gets to decide what we’re interested in? Who gets to decide what we can and cannot handle? what we can and cannot understand? Who stands between us and what we want to know and tells us where we’re not allowed to wander?

Yes, space is very far away. But it’s also right in our backyard.



A sample provocation

Published by Lori Pickert on November 2, 2008 at 04:15 PM


Inspired by Reggio-style provocations, Jan did a beautiful open-ended art class with her students in which they explored the materials without direction, moved from idea to idea to idea (painting paper, to painting leaves, to printing…), shared and extended each other’s ideas, and even excited their classroom teacher with their interest and engagement!

Check out Jan’s wonderful Reggio Emilia Lesson.

Curriculum of curiosity

Published by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2008 at 02:04 PM

Often, in educational research and theory, you find the same ideas expressed with different words, by different people, at different times.

You read about an “exciting new innovation” that, if you have been around for awhile, you realize you’ve heard before. Books are written that apply new jargon to old ideas. You explore an educator’s interesting ideas further and find out someone else was doing the same work twenty years before, in a different country.

After awhile, you begin to realize that ideas that resonate around something truthful will rise and rise again, until they are recognized by many people in many places.

After reading about education for more than a decade, I find that I am drawn again and again to the same core ideas, no matter who is talking about them — authentic art, children orchestrating their own learning, thoughtful and purposeful adults working with children, long-term projects.

Reggio educators talk about “provocations” — deliberate and thoughtful actions taken by adults to provoke or extend children’s thinking.

Unschoolers talk about “strewing” the environment.

Early childhood educators talk about “invitations.”

This shared concept recognizes that children (like all people) would rather make their own discoveries than be told what to do.

One very successful experiment we made with a group of three- and four-year-olds: We set a lovely bouquet of spring daffodils in the art studio in a beautiful vase, on a small pine table. Next to the table was an easel, a very familiar site in the studio, which had several easels. Instead of being set up with the normal selection of paints, however, there were many glass jars filled with an abundance of different shades of yellow and green. Not just one yellow, but six different subtle shades of yellow. Not just one green, but an amazing selection of greens, from light citrusy green-yellow to dark glossy green.

The juxtaposition of these things was a provocation. No one pointed them out to the children, saying “Look at this! Look at the colors!” No one asked, “Would you like to paint the daffodils?” They were simply in the studio, waiting to be discovered. The children found them, were delighted, and created beautiful paintings. They had new ideas about mixing colors; in fact, their ideas were taken to a whole new level from red + blue = purple. They understood the possibilities, and they immediately incorporated them into their thinking and began hatching new ideas of their own.

They didn’t all paint the flowers. Some of them talked about the colors. Some of them touched the flowers. But they all were excited by the offering. They painted all different kinds of pictures, and no adult came over and said, “No, no, no — don’t you want to paint the pretty flowers?” That wasn’t the point. The point was to offer something beautiful and inticing and then let the children do whatever they liked with it.

We talked about how we wanted students to interact with our classroom. We didn’t want them to come in and know every day that the block area contained this and the art studio had that. We wanted them to come in every day and not know what they might find. This, we felt, would encourage them to see their classroom as a dynamic, ever-evolving environment where anything could happen. In turn, we felt being on their toes all the time would help encourage habits of curiosity and interest.

Rather than put every material out on the first day of school, we added things throughout the year. Rather than announcing any new addition as a special treat and drawing attention to it (which creates the additional problem of 15 children wanting to use it at once), we simply added things and let them be discovered. Then the children told each other and showed each other.

When you prepare an environment in this way, you’re sending a strong message that you care about what happens in the room. You care about giving the children beautiful things to work with, and you care about the work they do with them.

At home, I still value this curriculum of curiosity. I think about how much my actions — careless or thoughtful, accidental or purposeful — affect my children’s attitudes and habits. I think about what a different reaction you elicit when you say “Look at this thing for you to do; here, this is how you do it” rather than simply creating an environment of possibility.

The difference between having an art studio and having art materials in a drawer is that the first acts as a constant provocation — the easel always beckons, the art materials call to you from their sunny shelf. Using that as inspiration, I try to make sure the rest of our home is filled with things that beckon — books, sketchbooks, journals, music, cozy nooks, science tools, field guides, binoculars. And always, always, most important — room to work. A clean table, an empty place on the floor. Not only exciting new things to find and use, but a place to use them.

Back to the daffodils ... I wonder what would have happened if we had put out the same flowers, the same paints, and then told the children that everyone would take turns painting the flowers. No wonder, no excitement of discovery, no figuring out what was there. No deciding what to do with your find, no thrill of showing another child. Instead, a defined task and 14 other people doing it, too. What habits and attitudes does that teach?

Image-makers and knowledge-builders

Published by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 09:20 PM

“The key to developing confidence in working with children begins with watching. Take time to watch. Observe children’s absorbed attention, their total concentration, their sheer delight as they play with colours and shapes. Watch their gestures and facial expressions. Listen to their words. Appreciate what they do.

Most importantly, give children time — time to look and ponder, time to explore materials, time to repeat things over and over again. And offer materials and tools of the best quality you can afford, materials that let children shape their own ideas and enable them to realise their potential as image-makers and knowedge-builders.”

— Ursula Kolbe, Rapunzel's Supermarket: All about Young Children and Their Art

Celebrating the individual

Published by Lori Pickert on October 24, 2008 at 01:16 PM

So, if a child is allowed to play to their strengths, will they neglect their weaknesses?

School is often a relentless push toward the middle.

If you excel, you either wait for everyone to catch up or, if you’re “ lucky”, you are put in a gifted class, separated from your friends, and given extra work.

Most of your time is spent trying to improve in areas where you are weak, rather than developing your special talents and gifts.

(To the point where children who aren’t performing well across the board don’t have time for art, music, or playing.)

Children should have an opportunity to play to their individual strengths — from their particular, unique point of view.

If so much of our efforts toward educating children are directed toward having them — all of them — meet a certain standard, why not have part of our efforts go toward encouraging them to be extraordinary?

Homework bribery & deal-breaking

Published by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2008 at 02:25 AM

Ran across this interesting homework story on Lisa’s blog Do Life Right:

One girl told of how her class was given homework every night (she’s either 9 or 10 and gets an hour or two of homework every night). The deal with her school is that if the entire class does all of their homework on a given night, the whole class would receive a reprieve slip from doing homework on another night of each individual child’s choice (each kid gets one night off total).

Apparently in the two years this girl has been attending her school, this has never happened. So she was thrilled to report that since telling us about the school’s deal with the kids it has actually happened four times so far this school year. The first time it happened, everyone celebrated. The second time it happened, the teachers and parents got together and decided that an entire night of homework reprieve for the whole class was too much of a reward. So, they changed the rules mid-deal.

They certainly taught those kids some valuable lessons. Go to Lisa’s blog to read the rest of the story.

No child left inside

Published by Lori Pickert on October 21, 2008 at 02:47 AM


Schools suck the fun out of everything they teach. Do we want schools now to suck the fun out of outdoor adventure?

This legislation, in my mind, is a perfect example of the kind of thinking that has caused many of the problems that the Coalition is concerned about, not the kind of thinking that can solve them. Every time we see a national problem, and especially if that problem has anything to do with children, a hue and cry goes out to solve that problem through the school system. The attitude seems to be that every problem can be solved by piliing yet another set of required courses and examinations onto the backs of schoolchildren. Don’t you see, you members of the Coalition, that the school system and our reliance on it to babysit our children and to force onto them an ever growing list of “educational” demands is the problem? And don’t you see that the more we attempt to regulate school activities through government mandates, the more restrictive and antithetical to the spirit of discovery school becomes?

Peter Gray, Psychology Today “Freedom to Learn” Blog

One suggestion Mr. Gray makes for increasing children’s time in the outdoors? Less homework.

Minimally invasive education

Published by Lori Pickert on October 20, 2008 at 04:02 PM

Ted Talk: Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves

Stick with it (or fast forward) until somewhere around minute 7 when he begins speaking about the Hole-in-the-Wall project — kids teaching themselves. Incredibly inspirational.

Sugata Mitra: Catalyst of Curiosity (Edutopia)

The “Hole in the Wall” project on Frontline

“Hole in the Wall” documentary

Official Hole-in-the-Wall site